Dear blog readers,
Though one member of our ragtag staff is still stranded in Atlanta, the rest of us made it back from AWP bleary-eyed but buoyant. We were contemplating a blog post that would convey our pell-mell, nerve-endings-afire conference experience when we happened upon volunteer staffer Don Peteroy’s Facebook account of our offsite reading with Mid-American Review and Ninth Letter. His nerve endings felt the same way ours did, so we decided to let him tell the story.
Don Peteroy: The big orgasmic moment of my weekend at AWP: the Saturday night reading. For several months, I’d been anxious about being part of the organizational team for this event. Here’s why:
I’m a musician. I’m extremely bitter and cynical about booking events because, invariably, the club owner’s expectations are never met. Take for instance ANY band I’ve played in. I have devoted hours to 1. securing venues (usually, the band has to make some kind of verbal promise to the club owner that the band will bring business, which in Cincinnati is almost impossible); 2. promoting (which, in the old days, involved spamming locals on Myspace, hanging flyers around town, sending personal email invitations, and lots of begging).
The night of the show comes along. I’ve got 20 friends who have promised to be there . . . and by the time my band hits the stage, there are two people in the audience: Cheryl and Phoebe. (God bless them.)
I’m now utterly embarrassed. As the band packs up, I either find myself avoiding the club owner at all costs (and knowing I’ll be blacklisted by that venue forever), or apologizing in some form or other. Thus I have been socially conditioned to avoid booking events. I hate doing that more than anything.
This relates to my orgasm, really.
Back in September, I was speaking to Nicola at Cincinnati Review. (Allow me to beg: get a subscription to this magazine. Even if I didn’t have a bias, I’d still say it’s one of the top five mags in the country. We publish THE BEST. According to Poets and Writers, we’re one of the magazines that literary agents browse for new talent.) I mentioned that maybe we should host an event in which three mags read. Originally, being that I’m an egotist, I considered asking Ellipsis, Oyez Review, and Cream City Review. Why? Because they all published me. Nicola’s idea was better. She has a working relationship with the Mid-American Review and Ninth Letter. Besides, with that group, we’d have a Midwest theme.
The next step was finding a location. This was the part I hated. A former UC student, Lauren Clarke, suggested about fifteen places within a mile of the hotel. This was mid-September. I started calling them, one by one. Some never called me back, some said, “We don’t do those kinds of events anymore; it’s bad for business,” and others said, “We’ve got the place booked that night.”
I felt lousy and couldn’t believe that other literary groups had gotten in so early. One woman was willing to have us . . . if we’d pay her $500 for the space.
The problem here, it seems, is that when readings are done and the audience leaves, other people don’t show up. It’s bad for business.
Luckily I found one place, called Bread & Brew. It was small. The owner took two weeks to get back to me, despite my frequent phone calls. Finally, we touched base on email. Then I realized that she’d put me down for the wrong night. This went back and forth, until, finally, she asked the question that I loathe: “How many people can you bring?”
With bands, you have to lie. You have to say thirty, though you damn well know that if ten friends come, you’ve had a great night.
I got back to her. I said to expect about thirty-five people.
Now I became really worried about what it would mean if ten people came. Sure, we had these “attending” promises on Facebook, but if I could trust that, I’d be a rock star by now.
Finally, after talking with Nicola, I raised the number to sixty.
God! I thought. Sixty is a lot! Let’s be realistic: when sixty people say they’ll be somewhere, fifteen will arrive.
When the day of the reading arrived, my anxiety grew. Phoebe and I got to Bread & Brew at a little after 6:00. But for the writer Darrin Doyle and a few stragglers from Bowling Green, the place was empty. I felt like this would be another rock-band-like disaster. But suddenly, at 7:00, the crowd arrived. Within minutes, seats were prime real estate. People were standing shoulder to shoulder; people were sitting on the floor. I got lucky; I was at a table with Darrin and Matt Bell. How odd it was since I admire their writing so much. I’ve read both of Doyle’s books, and frankly, he’s taught me to stop apologizing in my fiction and just say it. Matt Bell, on the other hand, sets the ideal of what an excellent short story should be. Plus, he works for Dzanc books, which is my favorite publisher.
A hundred twenty people came to the reading. It was so congested that people couldn’t make it downstairs. One of our readers saw the wall of people sitting in the stairway and turned around and went home. Some of my friends did the same: it was too crowded.
Amazing! While it’s sad that a lot of people didn’t get access, it’s also wonderful that so many came to support a reading. Indeed, we did have celebrity fiction writers and poets, who all read wonderful material.
I was buzzing. I was so happy that, for once, an event I initiated came to full fruition. No let downs, no apologizing. The bar made a lot of money. Plus I got to see friends and be part of a community of people whom I love, and to be accepted into this community.
I had a wonderful time, and it was a major success. Next year, bigger venue.